One of the best things about being in Europe during Christmastime is the exciting abundance of Christmas markets all across the continent. The lights, the music, the stalls filled with handicrafts, sweets, and the ever-popular gluhwein...there's no better way to get into the holiday spirit than a wander around a European Christmas market. Many people think of Germany when they hear of Christmas markets (as they should, it holds many of the world's most beautiful markets!), but some of the most unique ones I've been to are just across the border in countries like Belgium, France, and in today's post, the Netherlands!
One foggy (and incredibly chilly) December Sunday, we hopped into a car with two dear friends and made the 2.5 hour drive from Wiesbaden to Valkenburg, Netherlands...home of the famous Valkenburg Caves. We'd heard Valkenburg held their annual Christmas market inside the network of underground caves that run throughout the city, so we knew we had to see this unique market set-up for ourselves. Upon to arriving in Valkenburg, we realized the town had split their Christmas market between two different cave areas; one called Gemeente Grot and one named Fluweelen Grot. Each cost us roughly 4-5 euros to enter, or you could purchase a 10 euro ticket to wander through both (if memory serves). The lines were long to enter Gemeente Grot, the largest underground cave market of the two, likely because only so many people are allowed into the caves at one time. We waited roughly 15 minutes before we were allowed to enter, so not too shabby.
Once inside, Christmas began to unfold before our eyes. The caves were dark, but lit brightly and festively by dozens of twinkle lights, glowing Santas, and Christmassy displays of elves, polar bears, and nativity scenes around every turn. Along many of the cave walls, you could see historic markings and drawings, just adding to the uniqueness of the experience. Being inside a cave was definitely the coolest part of the whole market. The let down? The market vendors. Much of the market stalls were filled with Dollar Tree-type junk and not the adorable local handicrafts and holiday gifts that most Christmas markets pride themselves on showcasing. Additionally, the crowds got a bit claustrophobic in certain areas, which made it hard to enjoy what little shopping we did try to do. If you go visit the Valkenburg cave markets, I suggest you come for the cave experience & history, not so much for the shopping. And maybe choose only one of the caves to pay to wander through, no need to see both (they house almost identical stalls). Just my traveler two cents.
Now, if you're thinking you could care less about the markets if there's not any great shopping, you might want to reconsider. The town of Valkenburg is quite cute to explore. All decked out in garland and lights, a stroll at dusk helped restore our Christmas spirit after battling the cave crowds. We also ate some lovely stew at one of the quaint restaurants just off the market square...worth spending time in the town for, just wish I could remember the name of the restaurant! Sorry. After dinner, we walked to another part of the town and found ourselves an small outdoor Christmas market called Santa's Village. It was much more like the Christmas markets we were used to in Germany, with gluhwein and gingerbread in abundance.
After all was said and done, would I recommend a visit to the Valkenburg cave markets? Ehhh, like I said, the caves were neat, the shopping was not. Maybe explore the caves apart from Christmas market season? I would have loved to do that. That being said, the town itself was festive and adorable, so if only for that reason, I'd go back again. It was definitely an market experience to remember!
For more recaps of Christmas Markets around Europe, click here!